Tuesday, June 13, 2017

From There to Here

It has long been obvious that, as in most things in life, when painting miniatures I tend to follow my instinct without much discipline or attention to various schools of technique. I'm usually happy with the results but I'm sometimes at a loss to explain what my "technique" is.

If caught off guard I might mutter something about Old School but having recently gone back to check some old school books, well, it isn't really, but its not Middle or New school either. Its just.. "what I do".  So, I decided today to  have a "look-see" in an attempt to trace the roots and to take a few shots of today's batch.

Sound Assembly!

My first step was to look through several of my early wargaming books. There, right at the beginning of my wargaming life, was Don Featherstone's 'Battles With Model Soldiers' which taught me to glue a bunch of figures to a stick, something I still do most of the time, as well as teaching me what Jack Scruby called "sloppy undercoat, careful over coat", which is to say, slop on the main colour being more concerned with not missing any spots than with straying over the line. The next colour will take care of the edges when it is carefully applied to the smaller area.

Then I have a vague memory of a Heritage/Hinchliffe catalogue painting guide in the mid-70's which recommended an overall dark wash. I no longer have the catalogue and don't remember exactly what it recommended but it was shortly after my one trip to the UK where I'd had a chance to see Peter Gilder's Huns in action and it was the start of a long habit of burnt umber washes as the last step before varnishing.

But that's about it for wargaming influences. I can remember being impressed by my friend Eric Ritchie's painting 25mm ancients by a series of washes over white, but that's a technique that doesn't allow errors and I'm all about errors and do-overs, so I never got far with it. Similarly I tried black under coat and building up solid colours to build depth in the 80's but though I was happy enough with a few characters and a few units in both 15mm and 25mm, I found the process tedious  and the end product still felt dark to me no matter how bright the highlights might be. I went back to my old ways.

Sloppy main colour over white craft acrylic paint used as primer. 
However,  I was a painter and a converter of Model Soldiers for display before I was a wargamer.

I still have my battered copy of Peter Blum's "Model Soldier Manual" from the early 70's. Although I haven't looked at the booklet much in decades, that's because the basics were well absorbed. While I don't attempt the sort of detail that a teen age me attempted on 54's, and don't do as much shading and highlighting as I used to do even 10 years ago, the basics of my technique are all  there, white undercoat, base colours then shading blended in .

Awaiting the shading process but my brand of stripped down glossy toy solderish style will only include some shading on the flesh, around the belts, the folds and under sides of arms etc of the coat and small clothes.
I'm told that a well pointed brush is essential to a good paint job and from my limited experience with pointy brushes I'm sure it's true but, alas,  I wreck them  too quickly to find out for sure. So this 1 brush did everything except the white under coat.

The final influence was much more recent but just as important, Shep Paine's "Making and Painting Scale Figures".  At least it feels very recent but it would appear that 25 or so years have slipped past since I picked up a copy. How did that happen?

Anyway, there was nothing really new about painting in it really, it was from his sculpting tips that I learned the most. He did have several observations on shading that went a level up from Peter Blum and he commented on the advantages of separate washes for different parts of Wargame figures instead of a single dark wash. As he points out it is a quick technique so doing several doesn't take up a lot more time but it really improves the look when wash style shading ties in with the colour being shaded. He was right. So, for this lot the flesh was shaded with a very thin flesh + burnt sienna, the coat with a red+burnt umber, etc. Not washes though, these craft paints don't run well enough without an additive so I use older techniques of applying a dark shade then adding a bit of water and running the edges out a bit to blend them in with the base.

Shaded, glossed, and fallen in with the first batch of recruits. 
Last but not least, one of the best tips I ever got came about 20 years ago from Al Fisher on the Yahoo Littlewars group: "Don't look at where your brush has been, look at where it is going".
It sounds odd but I've been taught the same thing in drawing with a pencil. In other words, if you are looking at your  brush tip, its too late, its already there and left paint behind. If you look a little bit ahead of the brush to where you want it to go and trust yourself, your hand and eye will guide the brush from where it is to where you want it to go leaving a line behind it, just where you wanted it and less halting and wavy that if you'd been  looking at it. But you need to keep moving your focus point as the brush moves until you reach the end.  I still catch myself NOT doing it and have to correct myself.

Never to late to learn and experiment.


  1. I think most can sign-post certain points in their wargaming life that have created influences bringing them to where they are today and in most cases, they are not self taught moments of great insight, but rather inspiration generously shared by others, a role the internet and the blogosphere is admirably doing today.

    Like you, I came in by the Featherstone route, due to a chance discovery in a bookshop of Battles with Model Soldiers, which was supported by Discovering Wargames by Tunstall.

    But my armies were Airfix, a neighbours nephew wargamed and arrangements were made for him to visit me (very young teenagers). I put out my airfix napoleonics and farm ..... he brought his metal cavalry and artillery ...... Wow, I was spell-bound.

    And so these moments of enlightenment continued. We have crawled quite slowly in media terms to get to the media rich wargame environment we find ourselves in today and I suppose this is a good point to thank you and other bloggers for freely giving us a regular wargaming fix and constantly bringing ideas and thoughts and creativity to our senses.


    1. I found my Featherstone the same way, wandered into WH Smith's on St. Catherine's St in Montreal on my way home from Cadets. Could hardly breathe for fear it would be sold before I got back with enough money the next week.

      The internet has indeed been a boon for the miniature wargaming community, esp for those of us living in relatively remote areas.

  2. Very nicely painted miniatures Ross.

  3. Very interesting post and those miniatures look great!

  4. Interestingly, that's almost the same advice that they give to bicyclists: Look at the track you want to take, not at the one you want to avoid...

    1. Same principle, of course having the brush go off track is less dangerous as are the external hazards/ The last time a cat jumped on my lap, no blood was spilled.

  5. Lovely figures! And the walk through your thoughts on painting was interesting too.

    Best Regards,


  6. Excellent figures--and effect. Very interesting post. I, too, have tried to figure out what my "style" is, and I have come to the conclusion that I either don't have one (or one that fits into any of the identifiable "schools" of figure painting--dip, wash, black undercoat, etc). The method of this post provides inspiration for doing a similar one at some point illustrating my steps. It might help me to figure out what I'm doing myself (or prove embarassingly that I don't have anything I can describe!).

  7. An interesting read Ross, I'm guessing we are pretty much of the same vintage (!) and I understand your early influences. For me it was at school mid Seventies when I saw hundreds of converted Airfix Napoleonics and I was sold on it. I really like the idea of casting figures, did a bit of it 30 odd years ago with Prince August, but your castings look much sharper and more detailed. Many interests have come and gone in my life, but my love and passion for painting model soldiers has never left me.

    Keep on doing what you are doing Ross, it's an inspiration :)